Selfless O's knock off another AL East giant
Scott drives in two runs; Hernandez clutch out of bullpen
BOSTON -- They are taking a selfless approach to the game, sprinkling wins against the Yankees with RBI bunt singles out of the cleanup spot and defeating the Blue Jays with eight innings from their bullpen.
This is the new-and-much-improved Orioles, a squad barely recognizable from a group that started 2-16 and have been in the American League East basement since. On Monday night, the Orioles were buoyed by a trio of quality two-strike at-bats in the seventh inning and another extended outing from their 'pen -- fresh off cobbling together 7 1/3 innings Sunday afternoon -- to secure a 4-2 series-opening win over the Red Sox.
"You are seeing a lot more unselfish at-bats," said first baseman Ty Wigginton, who turned in the biggest one of the game by fighting off reliever Daniel Bard's full-count offering to deliver the go-ahead sacrifice fly in the seventh. Luke Scott followed with a run-scoring single -- his second RBI of the day -- which gave a solid relief corps all the cushion it needed for the O's 11th win in their last 15 games.
"It's a combination of timely hitting and good pitching," Brian Roberts said of the Orioles' recent surge, which coincides with the takeover of manager Buck Showalter, who improved to 28-17.
"You don't necessarily have to have a hit. You just need a good at-bat and get the guy in," Roberts said of the O's newfound offensive approach. "It's happening certainly a lot more than it did in the first half."
And it's no coincidence that Baltimore's wins are piling up at an equal clip, leaving Boston as the latest American League East foe to be stunned by the divisional cellar dwellers. The O's win -- in front of a sellout crowd of 37,560 at Fenway Park -- evens the season series to 8-8, their most wins against the Red Sox since 2005, and is just their fourth win in the last 21 games played at Fenway Park.
"It's nice getting wins in Yankee Stadium and here in Fenway because they are not easy places to play," said starter Brian Matusz, who survived a 38-pitch first inning to toss five frames of one-run baseball.
"We are definitely turning the corner for a positive."
Baltimore made sure Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka would continue down the same troubling road, chasing him from the game one out into the seventh inning after Roberts worked a walk and Nick Markakis doubled off the Green Monster to put runners on the corners. Boston manager Terry Francona promptly inserted Bard, but Wigginton and Scott delivered with an RBI each, both of which were charged to Dice-K. The Japanese right-hander allowed four runs and has given up at least four earned runs in eight of his last nine starts, including a career-high seven straight.
"You have no choice but to be patient, because the tempo is going to be such with him," Showalter said of Dice-K, who issued five walks over 6 1/3 innings. "You just can't let him lull you to sleep and wanting it to happen too fast."
The O's waited him out -- scoring a run in the first and fourth -- before putting on a timely hitting clinic off Bard in the seventh.
"Obviously, a lot of people have had trouble with [Bard]," Showalter said of the Red Sox reliever who entered the game holding opponents to a .175 average and tied for second in among AL relievers with 68 strikeouts. "Ty's not the type of guy that just gives in. He's going to [man] up and compete. That's what you have to do to do what he did. And Luke had a big base hit there."
The two-run cushion proved plenty for the Orioles' bullpen, which held a patient veteran Red Sox lineup in check. Reliever Jim Johnson pitched around a leadoff single to Victor Martinez in the eighth and David Hernandez worked out of a potentially dangerous sixth.
In that frame, Johnson issued a one-out walk to Mike Lowell and plunked Jed Lowrie to prompt a visit from pitching coach Rick Kranitz. Two pitches later, Bill Hall's RBI blooper into right field tied the game at 2 and put the go-ahead run 90 feet away with Jason Varitek at the plate. But Hernandez struck out Varitek and Baltimore turned a double play on a throw down to second base that shortstop Cesar Izturis cut off and returned to Wieters, who put the tag on Lowrie.
"Matt uses his length there on throws that are a little bit off and he's very quick with the tag," Showalter said. "Izzy, I've come to expect that from him. He's a smart baseball player."
Hernandez responded with two strikeouts in a scoreless seventh, helping to bridge a short outing from Matusz. A week removed from an injury-shortened start against Toronto that saw him exit after the first inning, Matusz didn't record an out on Monday until 22 pitches into his outing, after Boston had used a leadoff walk and a pair of singles to tie the game at 1. But following that laborious frame, Matusz retired 14 of 16 batters, allowing only a two-out double to Martinez followed by an intentional walk to Adrian Beltre.
"You never want to have an inning like that when you throw that many pitches, but I was able to make the adjustments," said Matusz, who lowered his ERA to 1.91 over his last six starts.
"I'm just happy to see things turn around a little bit. I went through a streak where I was really struggling, but I'm starting to really throw the ball a lot better."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.